Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Greatness Is Serving

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Jesus explains to the Twelve exactly why He has come into the world. He has come to be betrayed, to be condemned, and to rise again, because He is God incarnate. He has come to suffer these things, not for His own benefit, but for ours: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.[1]

The Twelve do not understand this.  From our perspective, reading Mark’s Gospel, we might find it difficult to understand why the disciples don’t understand what Jesus is telling them. They were the ones who heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They were with Jesus when He forgave the sins of the paralyzed man, and healed his physical infirmity.[2] They saw Jesus heal the man with the withered hand;[3] they saw Him raise the dead,[4] feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish,[5] and walk on the sea.[6] They were His hand-picked students who were given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven;[7] they heard Jesus declare that He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His people a Savior of King David’s line; they saw the people to whom Jesus preached, the ones to whom He was sent,[8] reject Him.[9] Why, when Jesus explicitly predicts His impending death, can they not understand what He is telling them?

The Twelve, like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Teachers of the Law, were expecting a different kind of savior. They were expecting the Messiah to be a political leader who would come and rescue the nation of Israel from the oppression of the Gentiles, and restore the kingdom. They did not understand that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.[10] Mark records proof of this when he tells us of James and John, the Sons of Thunder,[11] ask Jesus if they can sit at His right and at His left in His glory. They want, to put it in modern terms, to be appointed to high level cabinet positions in the kingdom’s government. The other disciples are not better in their thinking; they want the same thing. This is why, when the others heard what James and John ask for, they were upset.

Jesus doesn’t become angry with His disciples, however. He explains to them again what kind of kingdom the Kingdom of God is. It isn’t like the kingdoms of the Gentiles, where the high positions were for the benefit and glorification of those men who held them: Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.[12] Jesus came, not be served, but to serve. His service to mankind culminated in Him giving His life as a ransom for many. He died on the cross as the propitiation – the atonement, or the satisfaction – for the sins of the world.[13]

And what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Jesus’ disciples are also called, not to be served, but to serve. They will have prestigious posts in the Kingdom of God; they will be ministers in Christ’s government, so to speak. They will be servants. They will serve by preaching the Gospel and administering Christ’s sacraments as He has given them to His Church. In doing so, they will be bringing Jesus’ promises of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe, and calling all men to repent of their sin. Jesus continues to serve us today in the same way. Through His Word proclaimed and taught, through the washing of rebirth and regeneration that is Holy Baptism, through the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, Christ serves us. Through these means He grants us repentance and faith in Him, and we receive His promised gifts of forgiveness and life. Jesus will continue to extend His Kingdom in this way until He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, when those who believe will be raised to everlasting life, and those who have rejected Christ and His gifts to everlasting shame and contempt.[14]

Jesus did not come to die and rise again so that we would live our best lives now in this world. In fact, if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.[15] That means that we will suffer the effects of sin while we live in this fallen creation, in this corrupt and perishable body. We will struggle with all manner of trial and tribulations; we are not, by any means, guaranteed health, wealth, or success. But when He raises us from the dead on the Last Day, we will live under Him in His Kingdom with imperishable bodies like His. We will serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.[16]

[1] Mark 10:45
[2] Mark 2:1-12
[3] Mark 4:35-41
[4] Mark 5:21-43
[5] Mark 6:30-44
[6] Mark 6:45-52
[7] Matthew 13:10
[8] John 1:11
[9] Luke 4:16-30
[10] John 18:35-37
[11] Mark 3:17
[12] Mark 10:43-44
[13] 1 John 2:2
[14] Daniel 12:2; John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24, 29
[15] 1 Corinthians 15:19
[16] Luther, Martin. "The Small Catechism." The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Lutheran Church. September 2008. Accessed February 27, 2019. https://www.bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#creed. From the explanation of the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole

And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague (Mark 5:37).

Modern preachers of the prosperity gospel have ruined the preaching of this passage. In the second half of Mark 5, Mark recounts the stories of two people who receive miraculous healing from Jesus. The one, the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus meets while going to the aid of the other, Jairus’ daughter. After agreeing to go to Jairus’ house and heal his daughter who is near death, a woman with a serious medical condition reaches out from in the midst of the crowd and touches Jesus’ clothes: For she said, if I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.[1] This turns out to be true; Jesus ends up telling her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.”[2] Jesus then goes on to raise the now deceased daughter of Jairus to life again.

The problem with this passage isn’t in it’s recounting of events, but in how it has been twisted by prosperity gospel heretics for years and years. These types of preachers point to what Jesus tells the woman, “…thy faith hath made thee whole.” They tell their eager and oftentimes desperate hearers that, if they just have faith as this woman did, God will grant them the healing, the financial security, or well, whatever they ask for. This woman’s faith healed her, after all; your faith can heal you as well. She demonstrated her faith by reaching out to touch Jesus’ clothes. You can demonstrate yours by writing a check for the largest seed offering you can to Kenneth Copeland, or one of the other health and wealth heretics. If you don’t receive your blessing, you must not have had enough faith.

Such an understanding of these events, however, gives us a wrong impression of what Jesus came to earth to do, and what the purpose of His miracles was. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus goes about preaching that the kingdom of heaven has arrived: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.[3] He tells the people in the synagogue at Nazareth that He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah;[4] and, to validate His proclamation, He does those things only the Messiah should be doing. He heals the blind and deaf; He raises the dead; He forgives sins.

We see a similar incident when Jesus heals the paralytic: When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.[5]

The woman wanted something more from Jesus than only physical healing, something that the paralytic also received from Jesus. The Greek word which the KJV translates “make whole” is sozo. Sozo means save, heal, preserve, or rescue, and is certainly used to indicate physical healing.[6] It is used also, however, to indicate spiritual healing and deliverance. This is the word used in Matthew when the angel tells Joseph in a dream that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Ghost, and will bear a son who will save His people.[7] When Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach and heal, He describes to them what it means to be sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves. He tells them of the tribulations they would endure for His name. Sozo is the word Jesus uses to indicate how, after enduring worldly tribulation at the hands of those who don’t believe, they will be saved – to be made partakers of the salvation of Christ: And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.[8] The miracles Jesus, and the Apostles performed were to show that, in Christ were both physical and spiritual healing. Those things will be ours fully and completely upon Jesus’ return to judge the quick and the dead.

Jesus didn’t come to make our lives on earth better. In fact, being a Christian will oftentimes make our lives more difficult. Jesus told his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”[9] He came to earth as the lord of life and death. His healing miracles demonstrate this; they are not a guarantee that, if we have the right attitude, or demonstrate just the proper act of our will, God will give us whatever we want. God is not a vending machine; He certainly cannot be manipulated. Jesus’ healing of the woman, and His raising of Jairus’ daughter, shows us that He is God incarnate; He does indeed hold the power of life and death. He is the one who heals all our diseases. But He doesn’t heal us as we might expect: Jesus saith unto her [Martha] I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?[10]

Jesus doesn’t promise us healing of all our physical illnesses and hardships in this life. He promises us that, by His stripes, His death on the cross, we are healed. For even the Son of Man came to earth not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.[11] He promises us an eternal healing, and that is so much better than just getting rid of the physical problems we face in this world. He promises us healing from sin; sin is a far deadlier disease than the issue of blood the woman in the gospel faced, or the diabetes, heart disease, or cancer we may be facing. It is even more serious than the death which Jairus’ daughter suffered. Sin, in fact, is it’s cause; scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death.[12] In our baptism, Jesus washes our sins away, by water and the Word. He connects us to Himself and to His resurrection. He gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink, to nourish our faith, and forgive our sins, and as a pledge that the redemption He promises to fully realize in us on the Last Day, belongs to us fully, right now.

If Jesus should delay His coming, we too, like generations before us, will experience physical death. But, because of the resurrection of Jesus, we understand that our physical death will be nothing for us to fear; it will be for us a fearful as going to bed. When we go to sleep at night, we know that it isn’t permanent; we will awake in the morning. We know that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has been defeated for us as well. This is how our faith heals us. We can take great comfort in Jesus’ words about Jairus’ daughter: the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.[13]

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-ful Day.[14]

[1] Mark 5:28
[2] Mark 5:34
[3] Matthew 4:17
[4] Luke 4:16-37
[5] Mark 2:5-12
[6] "4982. Sozo." Strong's Concordance. Accessed February 20, 2019. https://biblehub.com/greek/4982.htm.
[7] Matthew 1:21
[8] Matthew 10:16-22
[9] John 16:33
[10] John 11:25-26
[11] Mark 10:45
[12] Romans 6:23
[13] Mark 5:39
[14] Ken, Thomas. "All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night." In The Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1941. Stanza 3.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

But Woe to You Who Are Rich

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:20-26).

I read an interesting article in the National Catholic Reporter recently entitled “Priceless blessedness” in which the author, Sister Mary McGlone, examines Luke’s presentation of the Beatitudes. Rather than getting a clear exposition of the teaching of Jesus, however, I was subjected to the Higher Critical twisting of scripture, in the name of advancing the Social Gospel – which is really no Gospel at all. Sister McGlone’s main point was simple: To shame rich, privileged Americans into committing themselves to social and political reform, rather than to call all people to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.

When other’s suffering leads people to work for change, they begin to belong to the category of those who will be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced on account of the Son of Man. No one effectively calls for conversion or protests injustice without paying the cost. But their activity buys them a place among that mysterious group of God’s blessed ones whose hopes are shaped by the needs of their most vulnerable brothers and sisters.[1]

Sister McGlone focuses on Jesus’ statement, “Woe to those who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”[2] Sister McGlone writes that we should not “quibble and wiggle with phrases like ‘poverty of spirit,’ we need to face Luke’s presentation of the Beatitudes as it is.”[3] I agree, but this is not what she does. In fact, we should assume that all of scripture means what it says according to the plain reading of the text, always following the three rules of Biblical interpretation: 1) read the passage in context, 2) don’t ignore the context of the passages, and 3) don’t read passages out of their original context. Unfortunately, that means there must be some quibbling. Despite the fact that she even seems to recognize that “poor” in the context of Luke 6:20 isn’t referring simply to worldly poverty, writing, “…we know that there is nothing virtuous about destitution or malnutrition…”[4] this does not impact her interpretation. Sister McGlone wants to use this passage to call people to Social Justice, and focuses on the contrast Jesus seems to be making between the virtuous, noble poor, and the evil rich.

It is easy to use scripture to make it seem like being rich is sinful in and of itself. Jesus does, after all, tell us that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.[5] The Apostles marvel at what Jesus says; if it is impossible for a rich man to be saved, how could the poor have any hope? In the socially and economically unequal society of first century Rome, the Apostles couldn’t conceive that someone who was rich wasn’t blessed by God. Good things, like wealth and prosperity, happen to good people whom God loves; bad things, like poverty and illness, happen to bad people whom God hates. That is how sinful man understands the workings of God. If I work hard enough, I can please God, and He will give me the desires of my heart.

But is Jesus really telling us that it is sinful to be rich? Not hardly. As much as Sister McGlone does not want us to, we must consider not only Luke 6:24, but also other passages which inform what Jesus is teaching here, and we must read those plainly and in their context as well.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus is approached by a man who was having a dispute with his brother over money. They were specifically fighting over their inheritance from their father. The one brother who approaches Jesus thinks he can use Jesus to get his share out of his brother. Jesus responds by telling the man a parable:

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”[6]

The whole point of this parable is pretty obvious. Jesus is quite clear that it isn’t a rich man’s wealth, in and of itself, that is evil and makes the rich man sinful. It is covetousness. Jesus sets up this parable, known as the Parable of the Rich Fool, saying: Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.[7] So, when Jesus warns the rich, He is warning the rich to repent of their sin and have faith in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. This was the same message He brought to the tax collectors and sinners with whom He ate at Matthew’s house. The rich man in the parable was concerned with laying up treasure for himself on earth. He was not rich toward God. He made an idol of his wealth. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Sister McGlone is right when she says we ought to cringe when we hear Jesus tell the rich that they have received their consolation.[8] For if we fear, love, and trust in our wealth and possessions rather than God through faith in Christ Jesus, we to will have received our consolation while here on earth. St. Paul teaches the same thing when he writes to Timothy:

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.[9]

The problem with taking the text at face value, however, is that one cannot then easily use the text to advance the cause of social justice. The Social Gospel movement was a social reform movement that developed and took hold in American Christianity in the early part of the 20th Century.[10] This movement goes hand-in-hand with a method of biblical interpretation that developed in the 19th Century called Higher Criticism.[11] Higher Criticism in it’s most neutral incarnation, examines scriptural writings like witnesses in a court of law. Higher Critics evaluate scripture rationally; they subject God’s Word to their reason, rather than the other way around. This is contrary to the Historical-Grammatical method, which takes the text at face value. Higher Critics treat scripture as any other human writings; they are not inerrant, but subject to human failings. Higher criticism gives the individual interpreter, not Holy Scripture, ultimate authority. This is incompatible with the Sola Scriptura principle of Lutheranism. Higher Critics look at the Gospel of St. Luke and treat it as though the things Luke wrote were his own message, rather than the word of God. Higher Criticism discounts the miraculous. So, when the gospels record Jesus performing a miracle, like the feeding of the 5,000 for instance, they try to explain it rationally, rather than taking the text for what it says. Jesus didn’t miraculously feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes because He is God in human flesh. Rather, Jesus’ teaching moved people to share food with their neighbors that they had been selfishly hiding away for themselves. Examined in this way, scripture can be allegorized and used teach whatever point a given theologian wants to make.

As a result, Higher Criticism turns scripture into, at best, a collection of morality tales to inspire people to act better; at worst, it turns scripture into a tool to advance heresy, obscure Christ, and scratch the itching ears of sinners who will not put up with sound teaching.

The Beatitudes are often understood as a quid pro quo. If you are poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, so work really hard to be as poor in spirit as you can. If you do this, then you get that; or this thing will happen to you. Jesus, however, is not declaring here an ethical demand of his followers by laying out a law of behavior or attitude. The Beatitudes are not so much a mountain of law which one is to climb to be a better Christian, or to qualify for blessing and eternal life, but rather it can be seen – particularly by your “old” man – as a mountain of law under which one is to be totally crushed. The Beatitudes are also gospel. They assure Jesus’ disciples of the future blessings in store for them, blessing which, in fact, already belong to us through our faith in Jesus. The new man hears in the Beatitudes assurance of God’s goodness and future blessing; the old man hears law and judgment. When we recognize our own spiritual poverty, when the Lord leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, when He makes us pure in heart so that we seek to worship only the true God, then we are blessed, now and forever.[12] The good works that Sister McGlone says will buy us a place among God’s blessed ones are not currency with which we purchase blessings from God. They are the fruits of our faith that we produce in the way an apple tree produces it’s fruit. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.[13] To view the Beatitudes as a prescription for our behavior so that we can gain blessing from God, and therefore be a good Christian, is to put the cart before the horse. Our good works are a product of our faith.

[1] McGlone, Mary M. "Priceless Blessedness." The National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2019. Kindle Edition
[2] Luke 6:24
[3] McGlone, Mary M. "Priceless Blessedness." The National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2019. Kindle Edition
[4] ibid.
[5] Matthew 19:24
[6] Luke 12:16-21
[7] Luke 12:15
[8] McGlone, Mary M. "Priceless Blessedness." The National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2019. Kindle Edition
[9] 1 Timothy 6:6-10
[10] Stevens, Mark A., ed. Merriam-Websters Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2000.
[11] Mirriam Webster defines Higher Criticism as the study of biblical writings to determine their literary history and the purpose and meaning of the authors. This assumes that the man, rather than God is the author. This is in contrast to what was known in the 19th Century as Lower Criticism, which is concerned with the recovery of original texts especially of Scripture through collation of extant manuscripts.
[12] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
[13] Ephesians 2:10

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Unpardonable Sin

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).

Just what does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? The editors of the Lutheran Study Bible say that it is, “Extreme slander or curse of the deity.”[1] Under the Law of Moses, there was no forgiveness for blasphemy. The sentence was death: And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall surely stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death.[2] It seems that since blasphemy has to do with telling lies about God (slander), and with the use of profanely insolent language against God (curse), we should look at His commandments to see what this really means.

Commandments 1-3 deal with God, and man’s relationship to Him: Thou shalt have no other Gods; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, Thy God, in vain; Thou shalt sanctify the Holy-day. In this, what we confessional Lutherans call the first table of the Law, we are called to fear, love, and trust God above all things; to use God’s name properly, by calling upon Him in every trouble, to pray, to praise, and to give thanks; not to despise preaching and God’s Holy Word, but to hold it sacred, and to gladly hear and learn it. To sin against God, and His name, and His Word by persistently, stubbornly remaining in unbelief, by arrogantly misusing God’s name, by despising His Word, is to blaspheme the Holy Ghost.

This is precisely what the Pharisees did, and Jesus says so. The Pharisees witness Jesus heal a demon-possessed man who is blind and mute. This miracle was enough to give the crowds pause: And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”[3] The Pharisees, rather than recognizing this, claim that Jesus performed the miracle with the help of the devil. If the Pharisees had faith in God and believed what Scripture told them, they would have recognized that what Jesus did testified to who He was. But they didn’t. They were worried that Jesus would cause them to lose their privileged position in the Roman political system. Son of David notwithstanding; “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”[4] The Pharisees will demand a sign from Jesus more than once, but it doesn’t matter. They are not demands made in faith, and Jesus knows this. He responds to their blasphemous test by calling them what they are: evil and adulterous. Evil, because they willfully persist in sin; adulterous because they have abandoned the One True God to go off whoring with idols, specifically the idol of self. Jesus will, in fact, give them one sign, the sign of Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.[5] He’s talking about His death and resurrection! But, if they refuse to believe Moses and the prophets, “…neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”[6]

So, how do we know whether or not we have committed the unpardonable sin? After all, we have transgressed God’s Law, all of it, not just the first three commandments. We daily sin much and deserve God’s wrath. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We confess that we justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. How do we know we haven’t crossed that event horizon from which it is impossible to turn back, and are doomed to fall into the black hole of eternal condemnation?

The answer I got when I asked this question as a kid was correct, but unsatisfying: If you are worried that you have committed the unpardonable sin, you didn’t. If you had, you wouldn’t care. It is true. If you had rejected God and His forgiveness in Christ, you certainly wouldn’t care if someone told you that you were guilty of blasphemy and condemned to Hell. But that answer still makes it sound like it’s something you might stumble into inadvertently if you’re not paying attention. This isn’t something that happens in an instant, but rather, over time. The Confessions describe it like this: [God] also will punish those who willfully turn away from the Holy Commandment and again entangle themselves in the world’s filth,[7] decorate their hearts for Satan,[8] and despise God’s Spirit.[9] They will be hardened, blinded, and eternally condemned if they persist in such things.[10]

We don’t know when such a hardening of the heart has happened to a person. But to even think of the matter in this way misses the point. Repent. Today is the day of salvation. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, for you and me. After three days, like Jonah who was the shadow of His resurrection, Jesus was vomited out of the grave, the conqueror of death for all mankind. While we are alive we have the opportunity to hear God’s Word, to be remorseful for our manifold sins, and to receive the gift of God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus by faith. Gods Word is powerful. It accomplishes the purpose which God intends. Nicodemus the Pharisee and Joseph of Arimathea, respected member of the Sanhedrin, heard it and were converted by it. Saul, Pharisee of Pharisees and persecutor of the Church, met the risen Jesus, the Word made flesh, on the road to Damascus and was made by Jesus into the Apostle Paul. This forgiveness is available to all men. It is delivered to us through His Word. God is not willing that any should perish; He also takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked would turn from their way and live.[11]

[1]Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
[2] Leviticus 24:16
[3] Matthew 12:22-23
[4] John 11:48
[5] Matthew 12:40
[6] Luke 16:31
[7] 2 Peter 3:20-21
[8] Luke 11:24-26
[9] Hebrews 10:29
[11] 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 33:11